THE ANGAMIZA CANCER KENYA FOUNDATION
The other day at lunch, in one of our local vibandas, after a busy morning with ward rounds, clinics, theater etc., someone started a conversation that really captured my interest. She asked, “what would you choose, between AIDS and Cancer?” I leaned forward ready to hear what these young medics would say.
Well, first of all you wouldn’t choose either because they are both deadly killer diseases. But it was a hypothetical question anyway. It came as shock to me that the answer was overwhelmingly unanimous.
Every single person seated at that table said they would choose AIDS. No second thought, no weighing options. No one preferred cancer. Bearing in mind that these were young medics training and practicing in Kisumu. A city, known in the entire region for having close to the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence. These are people who have seen what AIDS can do when at its worst. But still cancer was not an option.
“AIDS is ugly, but cancer is uglier,” added the girl who had posed the question. A statement everybody at the table seemed to strongly agree with. And for a fact, HIV/AIDS can be prevented very easily, but for Cancer, well it would take a lot.
Some people, who are financially able and who were lucky enough to be born in setups that can do good surveillance, have taken drastic preventive measures just to escape the unforgiving jaws of cancer. Renown Hollywood actress, Angelina Jolie, for example, with a family history of breast cancer and confirmed presence of oncogenes; BRACA1 and BRACA2, went straight ahead and performed bilateral mastectomy. It seems to have worked.
But coming back home, where tissue has to, sometimes, be sent abroad to get a definitive diagnosis, how many Angelina Jolies do we have? And just how efficient is our surveillance system? … definitely not good enough.
Women of a certain family, for example, deep down in the most rural of places in south Nyanza, will die of breast cancer and the community around will say it’s witchcraft. They will blame their neighbor and some will say it’s a curse because their grandmother stole an old man’s fish when she was young and got cursed.
Most of them with such misguided knowledge and hence fear of stigma and lack of hope, die a silent death inside their mud wall thatched roof houses. They don’t seek medical assistance of any kind. Probably from the local traditional doctor, who cuts into the tumor, pierces it with all sorts of contaminated crude tools and make it worse.
For those who seek medical attention, most of the time it’s too late; stage 3 or stage 4. There isn’t much to be done by even the best medical expertise and technology. They are sent to India, they undergo heavy chemotherapy and radiotherapy, when really, what they need at that stage is palliation. Families spent to the last shilling, victims empty their savings and in the end they get the news…”we did our best but…” hearts are broken, scars are left so deep they may never heal. All because it wasn’t caught early enough.
We need to fight this. At the least give our patients, those who don’t go for monthly health checkup a fighting chance. Catch the cancer early at the very least. And none is doing that better, in Kisumu, than the Angamiza Cancer Kenya foundation.
Angamiza Cancer Kenya was started in March 2017 by a cancer victim. Kevin Tony Okoth alias Doctor Okto who is also a medical student at Maseno university. Doctor Okto does not have cancer. But in March of 2017, he became a victim when his closest friend, confidant and bread winner, lost the war against cancer. Speaking to theDoctor, Doctor Okto narrated how he struggled just to try and keep his father alive. Like in most cases, the diagnosis of prostate Cancer in the late Mr. Okoth was made late, stage 4.
“we didn’t even have enough money, I did an online campaign and managed to raise funds for my dad’s medical care. The doctors did all they could but we were too late. My dad passed on in the same place he used to work, the JOOTRH ICU ward.” Narrates Kevin. “If only it were found early, then maybe, just maybe…. That was my driving force for starting this foundation.”
Angamiza Cancer Kenya primarily does cancer awareness. They simply educate the naive public on what’s what, where in matters cancer. But that’s not all. They go beyond just telling the public that they need to screen for the various cancers they are at risk of. They go personal. They reach out to the victims. Those who need moral, financial or emotional support when dealing with this menace.
We sought out one of those. A young girl, barely 21 years of age, reacently diagnosed with a brain tumor. Now, Vivian, woke up one day only to find herself in a hospital bed at JOOTRH. She had passed out and remained unconscious for close to 24 hours. She denies having had any other symptoms prior to that. The tumor in her brain had been silent for an unknown amount of time. I don’t know if its growing or not. All Vivian knows is that she has a brain tumor that needs to be removed. That costs money.
Angamiza Cancer Kenya, however has been her stepping stone. They have been with her in her hour of need. “The people of Angamiza Cancer were among the first to come and see me at the hospital,” she says, “and Diana always comes here to stay with me when I’m sick. She does for me most of the things I need. They also support me financially.”
Speaking to theDoctor, Doctor Okto stressed that as hard as it may be to eradicate cancer, he would have played his small part, together with his colleagues at Angamiza Cancer Kenya in ensuring that those with cancer are identified early and supported to get at least a fighting chance. “I hope we reach as many people as possible and help where we can as much as we can,” said Okto. “Our main challenge however is the financial implication on us, we are a student based none profit organization and soon wish to be registered as an NGO. Then from there we can source for funds from well-wishers and other institutions in the fight.
theDoctor greatly applauds the effort made by this group of students and immensely supports their work. We wish them all the best in the struggle against cancer.
By Nyadimu Festo